A key coronavirus model often cited by the White House now predicts more deaths in the US, a shift that a top researcher tied to “explosive increases in mobility in a number of states.”
The model, from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, now forecasts 137,000 deaths in the US by August, up from an earlier prediction of about 134,000.
Dr. Christopher Murray, the IHME director, discussed the model on CBS today.
“We’re seeing just explosive increases in mobility in a number of states that we expect will translate into more cases and deaths in ten days from now,” Murray said.
In a press release, Murray said the model is not yet predicting a resurgence or “return to exponential growth” of the epidemic in the US. But cell phone data still shows Americans moving more – which suggests more infections to come.
“What’s driving the change is, simply put, the rise in mobility. And that’s the key driver,” Murray said. “We’re seeing in some states a 20 percentage point increase in just 10 days in mobility. And that will translate into more human contact, more transmission.”
IHME is also seeing more cases and deaths than expected in certain places, “but it’s mostly mobility that’s driving up the numbers.” Some of that is the result of relaxed social distancing measures, Murray said.
“We’re seeing increases in mobility even in anticipation of the relaxation of social distancing, but there’s definitely a correlation – the places that are taking off the social distancing mandates, the bump in mobility appears to be larger," he said.
Some context: The top five states in terms of increasing mobility, Murray said, are Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Georgia.
A number of other states have seen a 15-20% percentage point in mobility, according to an IHME press release: Alabama, Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
While the model only forecasts until August, IHME said later projections will likely extend into October – and will include potential effects of students returning to school.